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Books - The Dream Sellers
Written by Richard Blum   
Sunday, 09 December 2012 00:00

Much in print bears on our inquiry, some of it in the form of scholarly work presenting important findings on drug dealing, some of it on the milieu in which drug use occurs, and some of it focusing on or demonstrating broad economic and cultural factors of which drug use and sales are but aspects. The literature, then, contains both objective and partisan material. We here emphasize the scholarly forms, although we draw briefly on the others to illustrate points. Readers interested in detailed bibliographies on modern illicit drug use are referred to literature reviews presented in our earlier work (Blum and associates, 1964, 1969a, 1969b; Blum and Blum, 1967; White House Conference on Youth, 1971).

Illicit-drug dealing is not learned only clandestinely, without benefit of "public" support. To the contrary, the underground press and campus newspapers which serve the youthful audiences who so often constitute the drug scene offer advocacy and, inherent in that, moral support and also lessons on how dealing ought to be done. Let us quote from a student newspaper published on one of the campuses where we have done drug research:

For students plagued by rising tuition costs and expensive patterns of escape, "scoring" key of marijuana on campus has become a sure way of making an extra buck, with the added incentive of enjoyable working conditions. . . . Increased marijuana usage . . . has created a gold mine for dealers. An investment of about two hundred dollars . . . will yield almost twice that much when sold. . . . Increased usage appears to have legitimized the avocation of dealing. . . . Grass is accepted by students and sought by them as is the dealer. . . . One large dealer traces his business from 1967, when "I sold three keys a week; . . . now I'm selling fifteen."

The article goes on to describe the friendly aspects of spreading around "people's dope." It assures the reader that there is "no police problem . . . because the enforcement of possession of marijuana laws on campus is impossible"; notes the minor risk of theft, violence, and cheating; observes that those of radical, moderate, and conservative persuasion deal; and concludes with a quote from a dealer: "As long as I can get people dope and make a little money on the side, well, that's OK, right?"

The article has a teaching or propagandist function, for it assures students that everyone deals, that it is safe, profitable, friendly, in vogue, and highly approved. The same message is also found in the underground press. Consider the following from the April 1970 Berkeley Barb:

Dope dealers. There's plenty of them around, that's for sure. . . . They supply much needed goodies to the community. No complaints about that. But the money and the profit is a different matter. . . . Dealers make good profits. . . . It's not that they don't deserve making some. . . . However most dealers don't take any responsibility for their customers or their products, and that's not fair. . . . It's time the dealers assumed some responsibility.

The article proposes a "people's tax" for dealers to pay to a Legal Defense Fund for people arrested on drug charges, and observes: "If people become responsible citizens of their hip community by sticking together, the man [the police] will have a tougher job getting away with all this busting shit. He is getting away with it now because people are unwilling to care." The message here is not only supportive of dealing but undertakes to say how it should be done: humanistically, with solidarity, and with taxation to assist the suffering.

A London underground paper, the May 1970 Friends Magazine, observing the increase in cannabis prices and enforcement activity and an influx of American buyers, counsels action. "London's heads are, after Amsterdam's, possibly the best served in the West . . . . They have come to accept this as a matter of course . . . . It's time heads realized that London is no longer a dealer's haven . . . . Unless heads —all heads, consumer and dealers alike—get it together quite decisively, this privileged position could be lost." The article goes on to complain that the consequence of President Richard Nixon's antidrug action was to increase the transit of drugs through London to the United States:

American dealers have introduced American techniques. . . . They come from a hard, tough scene, and they are out to make big money. They are prepared to do things that English dealers don't even have fantasies about. They are also unreliable. . . . In short, Nixon's fatuous reaction to drugs is being felt here: it has landed us with a number of people we could well manage without.

The article argues against selling to Americans and reminds the reader "that bringing one hundred weight of righteous shit to London is a revolutionary act; it is a bulk shipment of 'mind-change' and as such qualitatively better and infinitely more revolutionary than exploding one hundred weight of TNT under the arse of authority." Discussing hash (hashish, a stronger form of cannabis than marijuana), the article contends:

Hash . . . is more than just a turn-on and more than just a social scene to make with friends. . . . It's the main economic artery of the underground, of our subculture. . . . Hash is the one form of capital . . . which is primarily under our control. It represents the strength, the power of our subculture. If we do not maintain our control of it, we not only lose a vital economic strength . . . but also lay the "underground" open to total economic dependence on the "straight world."

While accepting the possibility that there should be drug control laws, the piece condemns the unfairness of present laws, which visit stronger punishment on dealers than on robbers, who make considerably more. It asks the reader to "get it quite straight and appreciate the dealer's role in the community. He's doing something for us that no one else can. If he's any good he's an experienced, cool, and honest cat who does a tense but rewarding job well, . . . [not] mean and evil men running a mean and evil racket." The article, after inveighing against British government policy (which it describes as granting that smokers are harmless but dealers are evil), pleads with the heads not to make the same assumption and warns against gangsterism if the dichotomy is maintained. Moreover, a monopoly is proposed; the English heads must stick together to control the hash traffic. If the heads fail to appreciate their own dealers and not "buy and sell British," fear and disaster loom.

The foregoing messages of support and moralizing are pale compared with those from the pen of the master, one of the spiritual fathers (but we think not the sire) of the drug movement. Timothy Leary's underground press syndicated article (December 1969) includes the following:

There are three groups who are bringing about the great evolution of the new age. . . . They are the DOPE DEALERS, THE ROCK MUSICIANS, and the underground ARTISTS AND WRITERS. Of these three heroes . . . the dealers are the most essential and important. In the years to come . . . he is going to be the Robin Hood, the spiritual guerrilla, a mysterious agent who will take the place of the cowboy hero or the copsand-robbers hero. There is nothing really new about this. Throughout human history the shadowy figure of the alchemist, the shaman, the herbalist, the smiling wiseman who has the key to turn you on and make you feel good has always been the center of the religious, esthetic, revolutionary impulse. I think that this is the noblest of all human professions and certainly would like to urge any creative young person sincerely interested in evolving himself and helping society to grow to consider this ancient and honorable profession. . . . The righteous dealer is . . . selling you the celestial dream; . . . he is peddling . . . freedom and joy .

Leary goes on to speak of an Arab dope dealer he met in the Middle East: "Here was a magician . . . telling us that he was not a businessman but sent by God to turn people on." Leary argues that only one who is himself pure, radiant, not lusting for power or wealth can succeed as a dealer: "I can say flatly that the holiest, handsomest, healthiest, horniest, humorest, most saintly group of men I have met in my life are the righteous dope dealers. They have got to be that way because they have to continue to use their own product." Strongly criticizing "psychedelic liberals," who are for use but against dealing, Leary suggests instead: "I think it is a moral exercise that every one of the thirty million who are using psychedelic drugs should take a turn at dealing." He goes on to talk about some dealers he knew:

A group of clear-eyed, smiling, beautiful dealers. They were young men in their twenties, as all dealers have to be young. They were living together with their families, . . . and there was no reason for them to leave the country on one of these thrilling missions. They were planning another. . . . I asked them why they were doing it. . . . Their answer: . . . "We believe that dope is the hope of the human race, it is the way to make people free and happy. . . . We wouldn't feel good just sitting here smoking the dope we have . . . knowing that there are thirty million kids that need dope. . . . Our lives have been saved from the plastic nightmare because of dope. . . . [And regarding the police network?]. . . . We are smarter and wiser than the FBI, the CIA, and the Narcotics Bureau put together."

Leary concludes, "Don't ever buy grass or acid from a dealer who doesn't lay a prayer on you while he takes your money. It's powerful medicine, it's magic. And it has got to be treated that way."

The American public, perhaps not having read Leary, takes a different view. A Gallup poll (Washington Post, April 10, 1970) found that the majority of Americans believe convicted heroin dealers should be given stiff sentences, 67 per cent calling for more than ten-year sentences and 4 per cent for the death penalty. Sixty-three per cent want minimum ten-year sentences for marijuana pushers, 2 per cent favor the death penalty. Users are seen differently; although 52 per cent ask for prison for heroin users, 12 per cent propose treatment. Fifteen per cent propose no penalties for marijuana use, although 62 per cent favor some prison term. Young people in their twenties take a softer approach, as do women. Comparing the campus and underground press with Gallup's findings makes clear the dramatic differences among Americans in their views of what the drug dealer is like and how those around him should respond.

Let us look now at some of the available facts on drug commerce. We begin with the obvious. There is money in the illicit-drug trade. In New York City alone the upper estimate of the total revenue accruing to the heroin distribution system is $463 million per annum (Moore, 1970). Even if this one-drug, one-city estimate is too high, one wonders what an all-drug national figure would be. It must surely be at least hundreds of millions of dollars.

This illicit traffic is but one facet of the total trade in pharmaceutical preparations affecting the central nervous system. The estimate for the sale of prescription drugs in 1967 was about $882 million (U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1968). In 1969 more than 200 million prescriptions were filled—the majority refills (Lennard, Epstein, Bernstein, and Ranson, 1971). We have calculated the dollar volumes of over-the-counter (nonprescription) drugs, which are primarily psychoactive (ranging from aspirin to sleeping preparations), liquor, and tobacco. These sum to twenty-five billion dollars ($25,000,000,000). In addition to these direct revenues, advertisement costs for prescription and over-the-counter substances are also considerable. We have no total estimate but cite C. W. Weinberger (quoted by Johnson, 1970) to the effect that TV ads for sleeping aids alone in 1969 cost twenty million dollars. The pharmaceutical industry spends three-quarters of a billion dollars annually just to advertise to fewer than 200,000 physicians (Lennard, Epstein, Bernstein, and Ransom, 1971).

Thus, the production and traffic in drugs which affect the mind is one of the major businesses in the United States, and the traffic in illicit drugs is part of this larger attraction to and regular use of psychoactive drugs by Americans. Like the legitimate trade, the illicit one is likely comprised of efforts both to respond to existing demand and, when supply exceeds demand, to enhance it.

The New York City heroin trade is the only illicit marketplace which appears to have been systematically studied; economic and sociological investigations have been conducted, supplemented by scientific observations on the characteristics of at least some of the persons Involved in that traffic. Moore (1970) proposes a pyramid of dealers in the city with the distribution system consisting of small marketing units and a centralized organization at the top.

In regard to the dealers themselves, Moore (1970) proposes that, on the basis of an economic model, there is little reason for them to quit since the skills they need are not applicable outside and because they lack skills valuable in other jobs. Preble and Casey (1969), looking at what dealers do from day to day and applying both social and economic concepts, also conclude that at least lower-level dealers in the heroin system do not voluntarily leave it, not just because of income factors but because it provides them a meaningful way of life, allowing them to escape from the monotony of slum life and to get "revenge on society for the injustices and deprivation." Observing that jugglers, sellers from whom the street addicts buy, are always addicts and street dealers sometimes so, Preble and Casey argue that the heroin they and other consumers get is insufficient to sustain physiological addiction or to account for their dedication to the life. The addiction, they suggest, is to "taking care of business," that is, to "accomplishing a series of challenging, exciting tasks every day of the week."

Since at these lower dealing levels, dealers are users, it may be useful to sketch briefly some of the relevant findings on users. A. complex discrimination among users is offered by Brotman and Freedman (1968), who identify four kinds of heroin addicts. One is the conformist, who is conventional and not involved in criminal activities; another is the hustler, who is heavily involved in the criminal life but not in straight world activities; a third is the two-worlder, who is both conventional and criminal; and the fourth is the uninvolved, who is engaged neither in conventional nor in criminal activities. The point these investigators make is that conventionality and criminality among heroin users are not opposite ends of one spectrum but two quite discrete sets of activities which may be engaged in simultaneously. As we see later in our own data, this observation extends to the youthful dealer elsewhere in the drug scene. These two sometimes independent sets of activities both constitute continua so that within a large population of users one may place people as more or less conventional or more or less criminal. The criminality of the user need not include dealing but may show much other delinquency, either before or after onset of illicit drug use (Ball and Chambers, 1970; Chambers, Moffett, Moffett, 1970; Grupp, 1971). Preble and Casey's work, for example, showed that the hustling addict is busy with burglaries, robberies, fencing, shoplifting, and the like.

Analysis of the case histories of addicts provides illustrative data. The excellent epidemiological and clinical work of Chein, Gerard, Lee, and Rosenfeld (1964) showed how neighborhood, racial mix, peer association, family, and individual personality factors all contribute,to the development or nondevelopment of heroin use. Examining Negro opiate users who passed through United States Public Health treatment centers, Chambers, Moffett, and Jones (1968) found that onset of addiction is associated with prior marijuana use and with association with heroin-using peers. Continuous use of marijuana, compared with irregular use or nonuse, proved to be associated, in their sample, with its early use, with early arrest, and with becoming a narcotics dealer. Delinquency preceded the onset of heroin use; males more than females had criminal histories; and both males and females appeared less often to have held straight jobs than would be expected for the normal urban Negro population. Since early drug involvement, early earnings from crime, and reduced legitimate work characterized this group, not surprisingly about half the sample had been drug dealers, an activity which nicely combines these early propensities. That dealing had, at one time or another, provided nearly three-quarters of their income.

In another study of a group at high risk of addiction, Puerto Rican males, De Fleur, Ball, and Snarr (1969) identify two major patterns among opiate addicts. One is characterized by high school education, steady employment followed by addiction, then arrest, and, ultimately, after incarceration or treatment, a good chance for abstinence, reemployment, and an honest life. The other pattern is of elementary education, little likelihood of straight work, early delinquency and arrest, then addiction, and, following incarceration or treatment, no chance for abstinence, reemployment, or an honest life. Among this criminal group are found the drug dealers, 65 per cent of them having dealt as opposed to none in the employed group. (A study by Bates, 1968, showed similar results.) Between these two extremes is a middle group, those with sporadic employment who are intermediate on most measures. The investigators suggest that they are transitory in their life style; that is, they are moving either toward employment and abstinence or toward increased involvement in opiates, in crime, and, by extension, in drug dealing.

Heroin users have generally been drawn primarily from young urban shim males, often minority group members (1967 Task Force Report on Narcotics and Drug Abuse). Dealers among them have been, as the foregoing studies suggest, the less employable, less educated, and earlier delinquent. That such youth—perhaps "unemployables"—should engage in crime rather than legitimate work is considered by Banfield (1970) as partly due to the fact that illicit enterprises set an "informal minimal wage for unskilled labor that has no relation to the market value of such labor and that other employers cannot afford to pay. As a result the young dropout loses face and self-respect unless he is either a 'hustler' or an idler, the suggestion that he be paid what his work is worth is tantamount to an insult." Banfield goes on to discuss such youth's attitudes to work, observing that foresight, diligence, and self-discipline may not be found and that they may prefer excitement and nonwork (Doeringer, 1968, cited by Ban-field, 1970, p. 112).

Resistance to steady work on the part of able-bodied persons is especially strong in the slums. A study of the ghetto labor market in Boston in 1968 showed that about 70 per cent of the job applicants referred by neighborhood employment centers received offers. More than half of the offers were rejected however, and only about 40 per cent of those who took jobs kept them for as long as a month. "Much of the ghetto unemployment appears to be a result of work instability rather than job scarcity."

Another report cited by Barfield (U.S. Department of Labor, 1967) shows lack of employment interests among 10 or 20 per cent of slum youth and attributes this disinterest to inferior education, lack of skill, police records, discrimination—age more than race—family inadequacy, drug addiction, and a sense of hopelessness. It concludes, "The problem is less one of inadequate opportunity than of inability, under existing conditions, to use opportunity."

These points are supplemented by the theoretical propositions advanced by sociologists concerned with crime. For example, Merton (1957), Cohen (1966), Cloward and Ohlin (1960), and Matza (1964) emphasize—although not without disagreement—the function of delinquency as a solution primarily to career barriers associated with poverty, to cultural-social stresses, and to personal frustrations as these are perceived by the young slum dweller. Given this mix of economic, social, and psychological factors coupled with the availability of drugs and a demand for them, one can see how slum drug dealing appears as a desirable pursuit. It offers wages above those available for unskilled labor, provides excitement and rewards for delinquent tendencies and records, requires no self-discipline or bending to institutional requirements, and allows a fairly discreet delinquency (as opposed to bashing heads) to coexist with normal social values—for example, money-making independence.

The foregoing may contribute to criminality and to drug dealing. But for slum dealing to occur—at least at the lower level, where organizational skills and self-discipline are not required—involvement in the drug life is a precondition. For those individuals who suffer some psychological deficit arising from any source—family inadequacy, genetic liability, character-warping early experience—and who are in association with drug-using peers and outside of moral control through institutional structures (family, school), the attractiveness to that life and particularly to heroin is great. The studies cited show us that over half these drug-centered users—the hustlers and two-worlders--become dealers at one time or another.

The foregoing discussion applies to the slum dealer and his conditions, but it is not an adequate picture of all youthful dealing. Heroin use occurs outside the slums in connection with other illicit drug use among middle- and upper-class youngsters and persons in their twenties. These groups also generate dealers. As 60 per cent of some public school classes are now estimated to have had heroin experience, slum origins are not now necessary preconditions Densen-Gerber, Murphy, and Record (1970). Heroin use outside slums is not accounted for in terms of concepts such as pervasive clinical psychopathology or various theories of poverty-linked frustration. Densen-Gerber, Murphy, and Record (1970), after studying school-attending New York City teenagers, suggest that middle-class youngsters who are not psychiatrically ill can respond to peer pressures which include heroin use as a fad (or ritual experience). The correctness of that observation was clearly demonstrated in the English town of Crawley, where peer experimentation led to heroin use by De Alarcon's (1969) and De Alarcon and Rathod's (1968) samples. These subjects, male and between fifteen and twenty, did not differ from the nonusing population; all were living regularly with their parents, were employed, were not part of visibly delinquent groups, and ranged across the socioeconomic scale. Insofar as this group began use simultaneously, sharing heroin with one another and turning on their friends, most appear to have been heroin distributors in the technical sense, although not sellers.

Another English study (MacSweeney and Parr, 1970) learned that all users had sold at one time or another; their heroin dealing itself was irregular and connected to their need for money to buy drugs. As with the Crawley sample they were not from low-income groups; when seen by MacSweeney and Parr they were separated from their families and were very mobile (gypsylike). They had also been involved in nondrug delinquencies prior to selling heroin. On personality tests heroin dealers in this group did not differ from a larger ample of users. All heroin users were, however, significantly more hostile and neurotic than normal youths. When the dealers were divided into those who had sold for six months or less and those who had sold for more than six months, the trend was for the regular dealers to be more heavily involved in drug use and to have more unusual motives for selling; those motives included self-aggrandizement, "idealism" (recall the underground press), and dealing to create obligations in others. The latter action we consider a form of manipulation.

Data from San Francisco show a chain of events similar to those on the East Coast and in Great Britain. Characterizing 1971 as "the year of the middle-class junkie," Bentel and Smith (1971) and Sheppard and Gay (1971) describe the growth of hard drug use among the middle class and the associated growth of ill health and criminality. They emphasize how drug explorations leading to stimulant use can then lead to the further discovery—in response to felt necessity—that uppers such as amphetamines require in turn downers such as the opiates or barbiturates. The cost of such discoveries can be high, medically and socially as well as economically. One way to meet the monetary cost for maintaining a habit, as well as to ensure supply and to remain in the swing of things, is to become a dealer.

The fact that heroin use is (slowly) becoming middle class suggests an interpretation for the growth of much other drug use and of dealing: As part of the melting pot process in America the values of classes intermingle, and such diffusion is in itself deemed worthy. As Banfield (1970) notes, just as middle-class concepts dictate "appropriate" levels of income and support for the poor; so some of the styles of the slum poor, in particular of the delinquent slum, spread to the middle and upper classes, and become appropriate there. Banfield observes that the "youth culture somewhat resembles lower-class culture" in respect to work attitudes. "Lawful, safe, and well-regulated jobs" are unattractive when excitement, casual styles, and—with regard to drugs—immediate pleasure and chemical escape may be gained elsewhere. Marijuana may be another and earlier example of the same diffusion; and the adoption and popularization of criminal cant seems to be a particularly good example. A parallel illustration is the accommodation and integration of the styles of the psychedelic scene to mass media advertising, a process which we take to demonstrate the absorption of deviance into the larger culture as part of democratization. We assume the function of such democratization may be to reduce intergroup conflict and increase the number of acceptable styles of conduct, while at the same time normalizing these styles so that pluralism is ultimately reduced. If this interpretation is correct, middle-class youthful drug dealing, with which our work is most concerned, can be viewed, in part only, as one form of the democratization of delinquency. Such a movement by no means implies that middle- or upper-class youth were without delinquency prior to the popularity of drugs and dealing. It does imply that new and more prevalent expressions of delinquency, along with justifications for that conduct, become idealized despite what the law says is criminal. We assume that this cannot occur unless drug use—and its inevitable dealing facet—is intrinsically satisfying to the youth involved.

The upward class diffusion of drug use and its correlates is by no means limited to the United States. D. U. Bueno (in Harris, McIsaac, and Schuster, 1970) describes how marijuana, until recently considered lower class and criminal in Mexico (indeed marijuana as an adjective implied criminal or soldier status), has climbed the social ladder. Bueno observes that in climbing it has jumped a rung, moving from the lower class to highly educated and wealthy groups but bypassing working-class and lower-middle-class folk. Bean's (1971) observations in London show a similar distribution of arrested users (who also have associated delinquency) among the higher and lowest socioeconomic groups with underrepresentation of the lower-middle and working class. From observations of the families of college drug dealers (Chapter Nineteen), we have similar evidence that democratization of drug dealing moves from low to high but does not easily penetrate the conservative bastion of clerks, hard-hats, and others in the working class and "petty bourgeoisie." Perhaps these bastions of convention will respond to the innovations of the upper-middle class when the latter's children, some of whom are now explorers, dissidents, and deviants, have become leaders of wealth and prestige to be emulated by others striving for respectability. This process is by no means a new one, history has seen it before (Blum and associates, 1969a) as the drug discoveries of the intelligentsia were dedramatized and diffused in society. Over time present definitions of drug delinquency will probably change dramatically.

There are several other more immediate implications of the current democratization of drug dealing. One is that conscience has not disappeared, otherwise exhortations and assurances of Leary's sort would not be needed. The sources of conscience are changing and are, for children of less excellent families (Blum and associates, 1972), increasingly based on peer values—inherently less stable and possibly more hazardous (think of William Golding's Lord of the Flies)— rather than on the authority of traditional institutions. Possibly the acceptability by that more insulated youthful peer society (itself stratified by age) of what is for most adults criminality is part and parcel of a larger set of changes in our society. The symptoms include an ever increasing rate of juvenile and adult street crime, the challenge to traditional authority and establishment norms (which expresses itself in a variety of movements and ferments), and the advocacy of a pluralism which, in its extreme aspects, is anarchistic. All these developments are accompanied morally by denunciations of the positive law—the regulations passed by legislatures and the edicts of those in power—in favor of the natural law as determined by man in communion with God or his conscience or both. Indeed, we propose that there cannot be widespread changes in what youth does in areas charged with emotion and moral values, as drug use and dealing are, unless other important changes occur in a society. These larger social changes allow, give impetus to, and are, in turn, affected by innovations which the youth propose or practice.

But there is more to middle-class dealing than emulation of the slum scene. Indeed, the denunciation of heroin use by the dominant voices of the psychedelic-marijuana scene demonstrates, if not wisdom alone, a conflict between middle-class youth and slum users as to what constitutes a good drug or, perhaps better said, a good drug life. What nonslum drug life is like, what role dealing plays in it, and what is implied are now considered. We draw on the work of Carey (1968) and Goode (1970). Carey describes the Berkeley "Colony" of ten thousand to twenty-five thousand students, parastudents, and associated street people who are the drug scene in and next to the University of California. With regard to dealing—basing his descriptions on a sample of eighty users, including ten middle-level dealers—he observes that dealing is common if not universal. He quotes from a dealer: "Everybody I know deals on some level." The movement from experimenter to user to dealer is rapid if the user enjoys his drugs, if his friends are regular users, if he likes being in the center of drug transactions, and if he has leisure time and is willing to take risks. (As measured by the Kogan Wallach test, according to Evans and Kline, 1969, consistent drug users score higher on willingness to take risks than do nonusers.) Since many users meet these conditions, the street pusher resembles his customers; one man's customer is another man's dealer. However, a regular dealing role seems indicated if the user also likes money, is friendly, wants peer approval and prestige, wants to be the center of action, wants proof of his personal identity as drug-centered, and is willing to violate the law. Carey (1968) quotes a knowledgeable participant: "Most people who deal are lazy—they won't work. Dealing is the easiest thing for them to do. . . . Or they deal strictly to build up the ego. . . . They like being in an in-group—looked up to and respected." Dealing is satisfying, "not a desperate last-ditch effort to survive. The pushers like what they are doing and where they are."

But dealing has its problems: it is time-consuming, and competition is heavy; there is a "vast leakage of drugs, thefts occur, overhead is considerable, and enormous risks are required to get ahead." In consequence, most dealers work for very little, "less than a decent wage." Carey says that an efficient street pusher could, from 1965 to 1967, expect to make a profit of only twenty-five to thirty dollars per week. Success—defined as good money, few hours, little hassle, and low risk—also requires that certain rules be followed: dealing only with trusted people, engaging in regular (efficient, reliable) transactions, being cautious and deceptive (that is, concealing the dealing role well). Carey calls attention to the discrepancy between the rules for pushing and the motives of most Colony pushers. "The format for success is to be a cold fish," and yet the average Colony member is frivolous and not serious and for these same reasons he refuses straight work. Consequently, most Colony dealing is "love dealing" and not hard business. When a Colony dealer does make some money, he is likely to spend it staying high and retire from work.

Because of the difficulties in being a success and the incompatibility between doing that and the motives that brought one to the scene in the first place, "the turnover among street pushers is very high. Either they step up their operations and move up in the distribution system or they decide to quit." Those who remain are part of the estimated 250 pushers who directly serve an estimated five thousand customers in the community. Of these 250 "very few make a decent living, but that's not as important as the fact that many make some living off illegal work, and they willingly try on this identity as an outlaw." A dealer is quoted: "Hell, I don't know what I want to be. I know I don't have any—uh—image of myself as an adult pusher. I don't want to knock it. Like, it's a nice place to visit, even if I don't want to live there." Some deal only for a few weeks. For those who stay on, moving up or losing out to the police, Carey finds a deep attachment to the life and increasing isolation from the straight world.

Thus, the street pusher is in it for little money and lots of satisfactions. Ordinarily he is not stable personally, is experimenting with being a pusher, is similar to the user, is not employed by a "mob," and values being independent and enterprising. In background middle class, likely to be in his twenties, rarely getting rich, not involved with criminals, not violent, not prone to cheat customers, otherwise rarely delinquent, he is always a user. That is Carey's picture of the soft drug dealer (cannabis, hallucinogens, possibly amphetamines) in Berkeley, circa 1966.

Accounts by Goode (1970) tell us about dealing among 204 marijuana smokers in New York City in 1967. (In his sample, as with most samples of regular users of illicit drugs, the pattern is one of multiple drug use. The emphasis on marijuana occurs because this drug is the most widely used of the illicit psychoactives, and while users of other drugs rarely have not also used marijuana, some marijuana users do not regularly use other substances.) They were mostly university faculty and students and employees in a publishing firm and in a market research firm. Goode likens drugs among users to food among us all; sharing and hospitality are the themes, not sale to one's friends and guests. Nevertheless, there are sellers of marijuana, and Goode's observations on what factors are related to selling are very important.

His first finding is that the most important factor associated with whether a person sells is how much he uses. Among those using every day, 96 per cent had sold; among those using less than once monthly, 29 per cent had sold. A continuum connects these two extremes. Selling marijuana is also linked to the extent of multiple drug use (or, in our view, involvement with a drug-centered subculture). Persons who had taken only marijuana had sold it in 13 per cent of the cases. Persons who had taken three or more other illicit drugs had sold marijuana in 64 per cent of the cases. A third point is that selling is linked to the number of close friends who are regular smokers. Among those who claimed 60 to 100 per cent of their friends were users, 68 per cent sold. Among those claiming 0 to 29 per cent of their friends used regularly, 21 per cent sold. Also, the amount of selling is distributed over a continuum, from selling once to selling frequently. These are fundamental points.

We think that Goode's statistically supported findings coupled with Carey's informal reports provide excellent insights into selling soft drugs. Selling is a matter of use of and involvement with drugs, of being part of—and wanting to be central in—social relations centering on use. It appears to be related to personal characteristics such as risk-taking, willingness to do something illegal, and need for prestige. Selling is also a function of the group and situation; among Carey's street people selling seemed linked to not wanting straight work, to a transitional or experimental life style among those who were young, immature, or suspended in career, whereas with Goode's regularly employed sample these factors were not cited. The duration and the direction of the selling career are also likely results of personal and situational factors. In Carey's sample, street dealing was short-lived and was a stage on the way to businesslike (bureaucratic) dealing or to arrest or to quitting. Perhaps in Goode's sample, especially among those who were older and established smokers holding respectable jobs, such transitional or fluid developments among dealers would be less common. In neither sample did dealing appear to be linked to violence, the Mafia, street crimes, or other such unpleasantness.

In sum, then, among people in the drug scene strong advocates take public stands in favor of drug dealing as a friendly, useful, and virtuous activity. In contrast, most adult Americans oppose drug dealing and would impose prison sentences on sellers of either heroin or marijuana, although this punitive approach is less prevalent among young people even when they do not use drugs. A conflict in public policy formulation is apparent here. One can predict that as long as strongly opposing views exist, any policy on dealers will be unstable—subject to debate—and limited in its deterrent and corrective capability since dealers will not accept the inherent moral dictum that they are in error.

Any policy based on incorrect assumptions about dealing is also likely to be unstable. Present beliefs are that dealers are different and can be handled differently from users; legislation and action are based on this view. Yet studies among slum heroin users, middle-class heroin users, middle-class marijuana and multiple drug users, and street people of the psychedelic scene offer consistent findings that dealers are users, that most regular users deal at one time or another, and that both using and dealing are satisfying activities which can serve many social and personal needs. Among young, urban, male slum dwellers dealing is associated with other factors predictive of delinquency and unemployability—poor education, delinquency prior to drug use, failure to respond to arrest or treatment, probable disinterest in or unfitness for straight work, and so forth. Among young middle-class illicit users studied through 1967, delinquency proneness was not identified, and among employed groups no factors adverse to employment could be found. Among middle-class street people aversions to straight work similar to those found in the lower class were present. Regarding persistence in dealing, for young middle-class user-dealers, low-level dealing was likely to be a transitional activity, leading to involvement at higher levels or to arrest with its consequences or to quitting. For slum heroin users transitional activities were also found (although these may occur at a much later age) leading, as before, either further into the drug life and correlated criminality (street crime) and dealing or, alternatively, to employed status (Winick, 1962). (Other outcomes such as alcoholism, hospitalization, and death are not to be excluded.)

We speculate on some broad correlates of dealing seen as an indicator of social change. We propose that these factors may include an absorption of slum styles by the youth of the middle class, a shift from traditional authority to peer authority as an anchor for conduct codes, a heightened appeal for pluralism (many different life styles allowed within the society with none dictating to the other), and a justification of individual- or group-centered, rather than nation- or community-centered, conduct based on appeals to the ascendency of the natural law over the positive law.

We also call attention to the fact that illicit dealing is part and parcel of the larger accepted pattern of drug production and sales in the United States, the latter a multibillion dollar commercial activity. In that large sense Americans approve of doing business in drugs. We see no reason to doubt that among the young—or others—who have shucked conformance to particular aspects of the culture, this principle remains in acceptance.

On the basis of observations, we suggest that drug dealing is by no means removed from the mainstream of American life and that, for people using illicit drugs and being unable or unwilling to accommodate either to legitimate work or to ordinary social relations, dealing provides an acceptable and enjoyable activity, income, access to drugs and supporting situations for their use, and partial resolution for various personal inadequacies and needs. But because it is a job which is the object of disapproval and subject to external stress and internal conflict and because its pursuit—we believe—ordinarily provides only a partial resolution of personal problems or an incomplete experiment in growth and living, it is likely to remain a short-term activity subject to much ambivalence. One would expect that dealing is transitional, that being a dealer will lead either to going deeper into drugs and crime (including the criminal organization of the drug business) or, especially as one gets older, to getting out and looking for somewhat more harmonious ways to live.

The crystal ball aside, let us now turn to our results to see what they reveal about dealers, the development of their careers, dealing as an activity, and relationships between dealing and the institutional settings or life situations in which it occurs or which are concerned with its control.


Our valuable member Richard Blum has been with us since Tuesday, 21 February 2012.

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